GROW: Representative Science

In the Summer 2023 edition of GROW, professor in the Department of Biochemistry Judith Simcox and her colleagues look to diversify the pool of researchers — and the questions they’re asking — to get answers that address health care disparities. The following is an excerpt from the article. You can read the article, written by Caroline Schneider, in its entirety here.

The main interests of Simcox’s lab are metabolism, lipids, and biomarkers. Biomarkers, or biological markers, are substances or processes in the body that can be objectively measured and used to predict the occurrence of disease. The most commonly used biomarkers to determine diabetes risk are lipids, energy-giving fat molecules that circulate in the blood, such as LDL and HDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Simcox and her colleagues aim to discover how different biomarkers perform for different populations throughout the world, including Black populations, Native American populations, people with type 1 diabetes, and people with disabilities.

“The negative thing about these markers is that they were developed in an all-white population of Western European descent,” explains Simcox, who is also an affiliate in the Department of Nutritional Sciences. “We have known since the ’90s that these markers don’t predict cardiovascular disease in diverse populations, specifically in Black populations. This means they’re not getting the same standard of care.”

This problem led Simcox to ask ambitious questions: Why hadn’t this disparity been addressed yet? How could better markers of disease in all populations be identified? She and her team look for previously unidentified markers by identifying and separating lipids in plasma using techniques such as mass spectrometry and liquid chromatography.